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Fay Victor Remembers Misha Mengelberg

Vocalist pays tribute to Dutch jazz pianist (6.5.35 – 3.3.17)

Misha Mengelberg
Misha Mengelberg (photo by Ton Mus)

The first time I heard the Instant Composers Pool Orkest live was life changing. Walking into a packed venue in Amsterdam, I saw Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink finishing up an absurdist conversation at a table in the middle of the stage, while some band members played and others looked on or shouted words. Misha and Han got up after a while, returning to their instrument chairs when the band went into a Monk tune, then into an improv that morphed into a Dixieland tune. I was transfixed—a thrilling and raucous display of honoring nothing and everything at the same time. The audience was going crazy too! It was one of the most exciting things I’d experienced in the music up to that time. The concert planted a seed that changed how I wanted to make music. It was the first time hearing Misha Mengelberg live, but getting to know Misha started with Herbie Nichols, one of his most profound sources of inspiration.

While working on music for my second release as a leader, the lyrics to a Herbie Nichols composition named “House Party Starting” came to me. I fell deeply in love with the tune and sought out the music to record it, which led to contacting the maestro. I remember we had a quirky and great conversation that left a lasting impression. I recorded “House Party Starting” for my 2001 album, Darker Than Blue (where the tune is retitled “Tonight”), and sent Misha a copy. When I followed up, Misha remarked that the record “reminded him of nothing.”

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